Sunday, November 28, 2010

Superman, Dumbledore, and Community Action: The Motivating Power of Film

Say what you will about critic’s darling “Waiting for Superman,” a film about the state of public education in our country.  One thing is for certain: it has got people talking, and it’s even got some people motivated to act. This is no secret to the makers of the film – their website includes a “Take Action” section which encourage the film’s fans to write their local school board and join efforts to create policy change.

Savvy social change agents have taken advantage of the powerful potential of documentary film, sometimes with the help of community psychology practitioners.
In 2008, PBS launched “Unnatural Causes", a highly praised 7-part documentary series exploring inequities in health. (See excerpts from each episode at their website).  Like “Waiting for Superman,” the website for this series comes complete with its own action center which offers a variety of options for viewers to get involved, from linking to their website to using “Unnatural Causes” in community work. For those interested in the latter, the site offers a detailed “Action Toolkit,” which was created with resources from the CPP-run Community Tool Box.

Unnatural Causes Website

Documentaries can be particularly powerful tools for change, but the power of fiction can also be harnessed for public good. Combining fantasy with real-world action, 31-year old Andrew Slack has motivated 100,000 would-be members of Dumbledore’s Army  to join the Harry Potter Alliance. On their site, they ask “Did you ever wish Harry Potter was real?” and answer “Well, it kind of is.” 
What are some of the inspiring films that you've seen and how do you think they can be leveraged to improve our communities? Please post answers in the comments below. 
Post by Gina Cardazone, University of Hawaii 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Community Practitioner Spotlight: Laura Clark

Impacting Children’s Lives through Research and Evaluation
“I feel really lucky to have found a career that fits so well with my own personal values and beliefs. I go to work every day knowing that my training will be utilized in a variety of ways; it’s not just some esoteric degree. I’m also really glad that as a community psychology practitioner, I’m able to connect the principles that guide our field to the real world issues facing health and human service providers.”
Laura Clark, M.A.

Name: Laura Clark, M.A.
Title: Director of Research and Evaluation
Employer: Council for Children’s Rights
Affiliations: American Psychological Association, Society for Community Research & Action, International Society for Child Indicators
Laura Clark is a community psychologist practitioner who is effectively using her skills and knowledge to help protect the rights of children. The Council for Children's Rights is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of children in Charlotte, North Carolina. As the Director of Research and Evaluation, Laura oversees the internal program evaluation for three advocacy programs and represents Council for Children’s Rights on relevant community committees. She is also responsible for staffing the Council for Children’s Rights Research Advisory Committee and maintaining relationships with local research institutions, universities and graduate student interns for various research projects.

The Larry King Center for Building Children's Futures is a Council for Children’s Rights initiative on which Laura leads the community planning, research, and program evaluation efforts. Laura’s work on this initiative involves  developing comprehensive community plans to address a number of issues affecting children in the community, compiling and monitoring community indicators related to well-being, and researching and disseminating evidence-based practice research to community stakeholders. She also works with staff to develop public policies that support evidence-based practices in the community. Laura’s service doesn’t end with the Council for Children’s Rights; she also serves on two non-profit boards and teaches undergraduate classes in community psychology and program evaluation.

It is clear that this area of work requires an array of skills in areas such as research, evaluation, and community relations. These skills are very well nestled in Community Psychology. Laura, who earned a Master’s feels that her graduate education prepared her for her career. The skills Laura gained in program evaluation were particularly conducive to her job which involves developing surveys, conducting needs assessments and helping stakeholders to develop appropriate evaluation plans.

As a student, Laura’s field experiences allowed her “to see community psychology in action by working directly with neighborhoods and community agencies.” Laura was able to learn hands-on how to work with diverse populations towards common goals, how to listen to the needs of community members and how to bridge the gap between science and practice. Additionally, the mentorship she received in graduate school was certainly beneficial to her professional development.

Laura’s training in community psychology and extensive experience in community settings has equipped her to work with all sorts of people in many different settings. Her work with the Council for Children’s Rights illustrates just how community psychology utilizes research, policy and community collaboration to evoke social change. Read Laura's full interview here


This profile was written by Kyrah Brown, from Wichita State University.  It is part of a series of community psychology practitioner profiles.  If you have a suggestion for future profiles, please email

Laura Clark graduated from the Clinical/Community Psychology M.A. Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2002.  Find out more about that program here

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Community Practice: The What and the Why

Greetings, and a warm welcome to this community practice blog.

There are plenty of blogs, but we’re not here to add to their number. We’re here because we want to make community life better and stronger; because we have ideas on how this can be done; and because we want to share those ideas with you.

Yet here’s the most important reason: because we want to invite and encourage you and others to get involved in community practice of your own.

Let’s begin, though, at the beginning.

We are community psychologists. Community psychology involves the applications of psychological and behavioral science principles to improve community life. What kind of applications?; those that are both helpful and feasible in daily community living. That’s what we mean by community practice.

But why is community life important in this electronic age? It’s because we all need social and emotional connection and support; and while electronic technology can certainly assist (this blog is electronic, after all), more personal connection and face-to-face communication are essential too.

A vibrant community life can provide that connection and support; and it can yield more specific benefits for all of us. Much research shows that community support improves both physical and mental health, increases our feelings of safety and security, produces better outcomes for children, and helps economically, through close local networks of contacts. All desirable things.

Then how do we get there? As community practitioners, and as psychologists, we know about techniques and skills that lead to more satisfying community living. More than that, we can provide community members with those same techniques and skills, so that they can act successfully where they live – and do so without much money, technical expertise, or major time investment.

Beyond that, we can offer different examples from around the country on successful community action, which other groups can borrow from and adapt. We can motivate those in decision-making positions – locally, statewide, and nationally – to think and act along the same lines. And we can provide encouragement and support to those who believe as we do. All this to us is what community practice is about.

There’s one more reason behind this blog: it’s all too clear that public dollars for traditional community support services are scarce, and are likely to become scarcer. What this means is that community members will need to take more responsibility for their own community quality of life. Everyone will, by necessity if not by choice.

So we believe there's never been a time when local community life has been more important – or when it’s been more important for residents to know how to create and rich and satisfying community lives for themselves. We want then to share our skills and ideas with you, and help put them into daily community practice. To us, community practice is the wave of the future.

And that’s what this blog is about – to offer ideas and dreams, skills and techniques, discussion and dialogue, tips and tools, encouragement and hope, for all those who value community life as something worth building, strengthening, and maintaining.

So welcome once again. Please take the next simple step and join with us as an email subscriber (to subscribe, enter your email in the box at the top right of this page, entitled "subscribe"). And let the blog begin!

Bill Berkowitz
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts Lowell